It’s not enough for pork producers to have a sole focus when it comes to their business today. They have to think about their livelihood in two contexts – globally and locally.
That seeming paradox is not a problem for Lisa Colby and her husband, Bill, who raise pigs, cattle and vegetables on their farm with their grown children in Newbury, Mass. Their farm is only 35 miles from the megalopolis of Boston.
“We’d be quite happy just to farm here, but we know that today’s farmers need to do more than simply produce a product, said Lisa, who is set to complete her six-year tenure on the National Pork Board later this year. “We have to be transparent about how we do it and carefully listen to our customers’ questions about food.”
The Colby farm, now into its sixth decade of production, has 20-plus acres of vegetables and 350 acres of hay and straw, along with 20 sows that produce about 300 market hogs per year. The farm also raises some beef cattle and is well-known for its acres of sunflowers. Every August and September, the sunflowers attract onlookers and photographers seeking the “country look” so sought after in urbanized New England.
The Colbys have developed numerous business relationships with other local food producers to help diversify the offerings at their farm market, which was opened in 2012 to replace the old farm stand that had been the farm’s primary public interface. Starting in mid-September, the family is taking this concept further with the introduction of a series of farm-to-table dinners held at the farm featuring their locally raised fare.
“We’re proud to raise pork and other food for our local community,” Lisa said. “We certainly aren’t the most modern farm, but we’re that way intentionally. I think it’s about being open and up front with customers and letting them get to know you and your family as people who care about how the food is raised.”
Lisa says their low-tech method of raising pigs works for them because of its low overhead costs, with pigs raised in wooden shelters set in enclosed pens, and because it helps fulfill a niche that’s profitable.
“Our pork is naturally raised and is local, which resonates with our farm market customers,” Lisa said.
The farm sends market hogs to a USDA-certified facility each month in New Hampshire for processing, with some production going directly to local customers. Lisa noted that another benefit of raising pigs away from a pig-dense area of production is that it’s helped to keep the herd relatively disease-free over the years.
For Lisa, raising pigs has helped her give voice to her passion for agriculture at all levels. Aside from her leadership at the state and national level representing fellow farmers and today’s pressing issues, she hosts a radio show in nearby Newburyport about food production. She’s also been involved in bringing farrowing displays to the Topsfield Fair, a well-known exhibition in Massachusetts, each fall.